The meaning of Jason Collins' coming out

USA TODAY Sports

The kids today will never know a world without an openly gay male pro athlete

I'm not afraid to admit it: I cried Monday. A couple times.

It's not that the coming out of Jason Collins is somehow the answer to all of our prayers or that those who continue to perpetuate homophobia in sports will now silence their quieting roar. I just kept getting emotional thinking about how far we'd come -- those of us who've been fighting this battle for so many years -- to now see something that many thought was impossible.

I thought about Dave Kopay. The former NFL player was the first former professional athlete to come out publicly when he shared his story in 1975. At the time, he expected a wave of athletes to follow, yet he hasn't even seen a trickle of men take his lead.

I thought about Pat Griffin and Helen Carroll and Sue Rankin and all the women who have pushed the sports world for so many years, long before I even came out, to accept them for who they are.

I thought about the gay athletes I'd written about over the years: Former college athletes like Andrew McIntosh and James Nutter, who considered suicide because of homophobia in sports; Wade Davis and John Amaechi, who weren't able to come out while they were in the pros; Alan Gendreau and Galen Dodd, who represent a wave of out athletes hoping to move into sports' elite levels.

But mostly, I thought about the kids. I was one of those once. I grew up in a basketball household on a healthy diet of Celtics-Lakers championship series. My dad was a local hero, able to hit his elbow on the rim at a time when dunking was against the rules. I was supposed to follow in his footsteps, but on the first day of basketball tryouts in junior high school, I had an all-consuming feeling that I just didn't belong. There's no doubt in my mind that being gay, just struggling with my sexuality and being teased for it by the other boys, kept me off the basketball court. Like many LGBT youth, I opted for individual sports -- track & field and cross-country -- instead.

Thanks to Collins, the young ones in Pee-Wee football today won't know a world without an openly gay male pro athlete. The teens in youth basketball, just starting to understand their own sexuality, will forever have someone to look up to, someone who looks like them. The young gay men playing college baseball today got a shot in the arm: They now know the sports world is ready for them.

If any of this isn't clear yet, it will be. Jim Buzinski and I have been saying for years now that sports is ready for gay athletes. One of ESPN's commentators Monday night said he'd talked to a bunch of people in the NBA. He said, "I don't think 'overwhelming support' is overstating it at all." That support, now counting the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and Steve Nash, will continue to grow. There will be a couple outlying detractors, but they will be just that: Outliers.

It's funny to me that this is a surprise to some. Former Major League Baseball pitcher Mark Knudson reminded me today on Twitter that he believes an out gay athlete simply won't work in the pros. I bet him dinner that Collins' story in the coming months will prove me right. I look forward to collecting.

Along with so many others, Jim and I have been taking the chisel to the homophobic wall around sports together for 14 years. It's been a long journey. Some people said this day would never come. We knew it would, we just didn't have any clue when it would be. It felt emotionally like the culmination of years of pursuing stories that amplified the voices of hundreds of LGBT athletes, and asking straight guys in the pros, simply, "How would you feel if your teammate came out?" Until recently, the mainstream sports media considered these topics off-limits. It's awesome to see them now pursuing the stories of people like Jason Collins along with us.

To be clear, this doesn't mean the fight is over. No single announcement can end decades of struggle. Collins' story is the latest in a growing chorus that is quickly drowning out the naysayers, the homophobes, the people who are clinging to a past when sports wasn't open to everyone.

This was also just the first chapter in Collins' story. When he is picked up by a team, it will be another milestone. When he takes the floor in the preseason, more ground will be broken. And when he steps onto the court in November during a regular season game...well, I intend to be there.

It was another step toward the end, it just wasn't the end. Another locker room opened up for a gay athlete. Another wall came down, but more are still standing.

Now with Collins marching in Pride parades and speaking his truth, the rest of the walls will come down that much more quickly.

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